After a strict six-month lockdown, Greece opens its doors to tourists.
In addition, the country has established a safe travel corridor with the UAE that allows fully vaccinated travellers to move freely between the two countries. Under the agreement, passengers holding vaccination certificates can now travel to Greece without having to quarantine on arrival. From May 18, the same rule will apply for travellers flying from Greece to the UAE.
While most tourists will be hot-footing it to the islands, Athens – close to the port of Piraeus – is currently abuzz with energy, following a winter in which all bars, restaurants and cafes remained closed, so it is well worth lingering in the city for a few days.
Where to stay in Athens?
Athens is sprawling and hotels are dotted across the valley that the city inhabits – you can opt for views of the Acropolis, proximity to the city's hipster neighbourhoods or, if you prefer, take a bit of a breather from the summer heat in the northern and coastal suburbs.
If you want to feel the pull of the city’s nightlife and prefer to stroll home after an intense meze, Monastiraki, Plaka and Syntagma are the spots to stay in, while those wanting an escape from the hum of the inner city might want to head to the suburbs.
In the north, the fancy Kifisia neighbourhood boasts Semiramis, an art hotel that's akin to a Wes Anderson set. Or, get some serious beach time by staying on the coastline towards Vouliagmeni. The options are seemingly endless, but here’s a few of our favourites in the white city.
For a cultural hub in the heart of Athens: Shila
A treat for the senses, "hotel particulier" Shila sits tucked into a pedestrianised street. Built in the 1920s as a private residence, Shila has only six suites, offering a taste of what it might have been like to have lived in Athens of old. Original details such as the terrazzo floor, sweeping staircases and impossibly high ceilings are a world away from the 1960s apartment blocks that now dominate downtown Athens.
Add to that thoughtful design flourishes in the form of dreamily draped textiles, custom-made industrial furniture and light fixtures (now also being sold from the hotel) and the works of local artists. With its roof-top bar and regular pop-up events, Shila is more than a boutique hotel, it serves as a cultural hub for the city’s artistic community.
Stay here for pause, reflection and tranquility in the heart of the capital. The garden suites are best for those wishing to immerse themselves in a spot of greenery.
For the best food: Ergon House
A self-professed foodie hotel, Ergon House is a five-minute stroll from the central square and houses of parliament at Syntagma. It offers its own restaurant and an organic deli stacked full of Greek produce.
Above the industrial-feeling "marketplace", with its open deli counter, olive tree centrepiece (a symbol of Greek hospitality) and vertical orchard of basil, rosemary and oregano, the hotel comprises four floors and 38 rooms. There’s also a kitchen for cooking up whatever you fancy from the deli and an olive tree-lined terrace with panoramic views to enjoy your lunch from.
Marrying old and new in this lofty neoclassical structure, the hotel's designers – made up of native architects, engineers and interior designers – have injected traditional Greek design into elegant and contemporary rooms. The Penteli marble sinks in each room are actually repurposed steps from old Athenian staircases, while the low beds with mattresses set onto an elevated section of floor nod to traditional village homes in which beds would be placed on a mezzanine to make room for an entire family.
For architectural clout: Hilton Athens Hotel
Arguably the most famous hotel in Athens, the Hilton, designed by famed Greek architect Emmanouil Vourekas, stands as a testament to the architecture and design boom that swept through the city in the 1960s.
It’s one of Athens’ first "high-rise" buildings and remains one of the city's tallest at 65 metres high. Hailed as the building that brought modernism to Athens, it takes on a V-shape and was crafted from Greece’s native Penteli marble. On either side of the hotel are works of art by Greek visual artist Yannis Moralis – symbols of Ancient Greece that act as a contrast to the otherwise modern structure. Head to the hotel’s Galaxy Bar on the roof for impressive views over the city and a chance to rub shoulders with Athens’ movers and shakers.
For the best Acropolis rooms: Perianth Hotel
Located in a square where locals pour out of kafeneons and bars well into the night, Perianth is a hotel with a strong design vision. Works from contemporary Greek artists can be found dotted around the hotel and the interior is composed around a main "avenue", with rooms set off side alleys to represent the layout of the city. The marble and velvet dotted dining room and lounge, along with the wellness centre, have been designed to represent neighbourhood squares – communal spaces to relax in with an iced coffee in hand.
The curved lines of the balconies that wrap themselves into Perianth’s original exterior are mirrored on the inside of the hotel with streamlined walls that curve into doors. Terrazzo floors lend each room a lightness and nod to classic Athenian apartments, while American walnut furniture and soft pink velvet fabrics add an element of luxury.
Our favourite room is the Perianth penthouse, which has its own pool and jacuzzi, and offers panoramic view of Athens. And if the heat of the city gets to be too much, you can always zone out in the Zen Centre, with yoga and meditation inspired by Socrates.
For time on the beach: Astir Palace
If a rooftop pool does not quite hit the spot when it comes to your sun-soaking needs, the Astir Palace hotel in the city's southern suburb of Vouliagmeni is a good bet. It's a 25-minute drive out of the city centre but the newly renovated hotel (another work of modernist architecture) is worth the taxi ride.
It’s Greece’s first Four Seasons hotel and offers a lux stay on its own beach, complete with a beach-side infinity pool for the best of both worlds. It's the ultimate spot for down-time after an archaeological tour of the city’s ancient Acropolis.
For proximity to the Acropolis and Ancient Agora: Inn Athens
Upon entering this boutique hotel, with its pretty neoclassical facade and grand atrium, you might expect a traditional Athenian townhouse accented with 19th-century artwork and antique furniture. In fact, clean, modernist lines and contemporary details welcome visitors in each of the rooms at Inn Athens. The subtle grey of the exterior's original doors is carried through into the colour palette of each of the 20 rooms, but that's about all that marries the outside with the fully renovated interior.
Linking tourist-trundled Plaka with the cool, calm interior of Inn Athens is a creamy marble arcade leading to a quiet courtyard. Breakfast is taken here, with the courtyard’s tables circling a lush, bitter orange tree, a world away from the traffic of central Athens. Inside, the rooms feature textured poured concrete walls and beds set on marble slabs for a contrast of industrial and classic materials.
The hotel adds a contemporary edge to Plaka's otherwise traditional architecture and it is conveniently located between the ancient ruins of the Acropolis and the Olympian Temple of Zeus. We'd plump for a deluxe room offering a view of Inn Athens' best asset, its ultra zen courtyard.
For something a little less traditional: Semiramis
Deviating from the traditional washed-out-whites and sea blues of Greece, Semiramis pops with acid pinks and fluorescent tones. Yes! Hotels group isn’t one to bend to tradition and this hotel in Athens’ northern suburbs is no exception.
Its candy-coloured palette and sci-fi touches (we love the futuristic Do Not Disturb messages that you can programme yourself to flash from the floor outside your room) are a reflection of owner Dakis Joannou’s bold art collection. Joannou is one of Greece’s most prolific contemporary art collectors and his hotels benefit from the irreverent works in his collection. Semiramis hosts regular art exhibitions from the hotel and works by artists such as Jeff Koons, Tim Noble and Sue Webster hang from the halls and foyer. Stay here to experience life in Athens’ leafy northern suburbs as well as the best sushi in the city.